Provitamin A-enriched orange maize in Zambia. Photo: CIMMYT
EL BATAN, Mexico (CIMMYT) – Maize nutritionally enhanced with vitamin A can bring significant health benefits to deficient populations, but recent modeling studies in Zambia suggest that its impact is being cut short by the low retention of provitamin A carotenoids – a naturally occurring plant pigment also found in many orange foods that the body then converts into vitamin A – during storage and postharvest grain loss.
Up to 30 percent of grain is lost in African countries when maize is stored using common storage methods, such as artisanal silos or woven bags, due mostly to insect, rodent or fungi infestations and accumulation of poisonous chemical compounds called mycotoxins, which are produced by certain fungi.
A recent study evaluated the impact of carotenoid retention in orange maize using different storage methods to assess the most efficient way to store grain without losing vitamin A carotenoids. The researchers specifically evaluated how hammer and breakfast meal – the two most widely consumed grains in Zambia – age in metal silos, multilayer polyethylene and common woven bags, as well as single and multilayer polyethylene bags.
The researchers found significant differences between grain storage methods after 6 months of storage. Across all methods, hammer meal retained more carotenoid than breakfast meal after 4 months, though there was no difference in provitamin A carotenoid loss when using single and multilayer polyethylene bags.
Potential contribution of stored orange maize to the estimated average provitamin A requirement of children and women was around 25 percent – 26.5 and 24.3 percent for children and women, respectively – suggesting that orange maize meal can provide significant amounts of provitamin A to Zambian diets, even after 4 months of storage.
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